Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Leadership

First Adviser

Beachum, Floyd D.

Other advisers/committee members

Sperandio, Jill; Sawyer, Laura Brook; FitzGerald, Anne Marie


Career development in children largely involves learning about the world of work from family members, peers, and classroom exploration in elementary school. For children of economic disadvantage, a lack of resources, restricted access to information, and limited experience observing positive role models employed in a variety of work environments may curtail their ability to envision career attainment. The current mixed-method study explored the career aspirations of fourth- and fifth-grade students living in poverty to discern their career interests, knowledge background, understanding of educational and career pathways, and their self-efficacy for achieving their vision for the future. The data collection process involved surveys, focus groups, and individual case studies. However, the investigator highlighted the qualitative component, direct verbal exchange with and among students, as the most critical approach to understanding children's aspirations. Giving "voice" to participants allowed the researcher to develop a comprehensive portrait of student's ideations from their perspective. Study results indicated that the children of economic disadvantage envisioned a future of educational and occupational attainment, but their "dreams" were often circumscribed by their limited knowledge of and exposure to employment options. Nevertheless, participants described a strong family support system and fervent optimism regarding achieving their goals. Extant research on the career development in children has devoted a minimal focus to the elementary years, less on the impact of poverty on aspirations, and negligible emphasis on hearing the "voice" of children. The current study offers insights to begin to fill that void in understanding.